How to Move the Right Heart at the Right Time

February 27, 2017
Davar Acher By Cantor Erin R. Frankel (as posted on ReformJudaism)

When, in Exodus 25:1-2, Torah tells us “The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved,” the text manages to be both inclusively open and exclusively specific. We tend today to read this invitation as an equalizer; no matter the gift, God will accept it. The most important quality of the gift is the zeal of the giver to share it. But building the Mishkan required specific materials: gold, silver, copper, fine linen, dolphin skins, for example. Any gift not found on this list would not be of much use. Did every Israelite possess something on this list?

Not all gifts are equal in value. Not all materials are central to a project. In making a request of the community, sometimes we are not specific enough about our needs, for fear of offending those who may not feel included. But in valuing willing energy over specific skill, we lose the opportunity to empower those who could rise to lead.

In this opening instruction of the parashah, Torah also clearly struggles with how to word such a request. How does a developing community welcome and include all while also elevating some over others? Did the community really want all gifts or only the ones most relevant to the task?

Perhaps the text hoped to move the heart of the individual who would hear and understand that she had a valuable contribution to make, in material or skill. When the details of a project speak to your particular strengths, you are required to step up and participate. We must be willing, when the call comes, to evaluate ourselves and know when it is our time to lead. Do not fear the display of confidence or bounty. The success of the community relies upon your heart being moved at the right time.

Cantor Erin R. Frankel serves Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia.


Finding Access to Each Other: Jewish Disability Inclusion

March 1, 2016

Did you see or hear Stevie Wonder present an award at the Grammy broadcast last week?  He opens the envelope.  Then with everyone on the edge of their seats to hear the winner of that category, he turns his opened envelope towards the audience, to show us all the braille, as he chants with a smile, “You can’t read it; you can’t read braille, ah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah!”  And he takes another second to relish the moment when, he could access information, that the seeing-audience, could not.  Stevie Wonder follows with the statement: “We need to make every single thing accessible to every single person with a disability.”

Does Stevie Wonder know that February was Jewish Disability Inclusion Awareness month?  Perhaps not.  Last month, designed to bring more awareness to disability inclusion in the Jewish community serves as a nice excuse to shed light on some challenges and opportunities we see in our spiritual life here at Rodeph Shalom. Read the rest of this entry »

#rsgrows: A Building Expansion Fueled by Purpose

May 2, 2015

It has been so exciting to see the expansion go up here at Rodeph Shalom.  And now here we are, almost complete, with the May 17 Dedication happening this month!  In last weekend’s Sunday seminar, our expansion chairperson Michael Hauptman taught that the master planning for the space began in 1992!

The meaning of our new addition is certainly not limited to bricks and mortar.  The power of the renovation and expansion has been that, every step of the way, our leadership’s decisions have been mission-driven, fueled by our vision of the people and purpose who will fill its space.  Not once has this congregation set out to create a museum; this is a center for living Judaism, where we honor the past, celebrate the present, and shape the future of Jewish life in Philadelphia.

And so it made sense when, about a year ago, a congregant suggested we consider a Jewish text, that might appear on the external Broad Street wall.   Read the rest of this entry »

Opening to Risk and Praying for Israel: Crowdsourcing Sermon from last Shabbat

July 12, 2014

“You shall love the Eternal your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. Set these words upon your heart.”

Why?  Why does it say to set these words of love and of Torah, upon your heart? Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz teaches: we place the words of Torah upon our hearts so that they can lay there, wait there, for the day our heart breaks.  And when it does break, those words of love sitting on our heart will fall right into the crack.  That’s when we will really know Torah.

With fear comes distancing, the building of walls, the closing of hearts.  But with openness—sometimes even just a crack, exposing our heart—comes the trust and faith that can allow for risk-taking. Read the rest of this entry »

Counting the Omer: To Go Up the Mountain and Really Be There

June 1, 2014

This Tuesday evening-Wednesday, June 3-4, the counting of the Omer concludes and Shavuot arrives with our Shavuot Night of Study (7pm).  For all of you who have been counting the Omer with us, or tuning in for some of the experience, this is a wonderful time to reflect.  What has it meant to turn back to the liberation story of Pesach, to look forward to the revelation story of Shavuot, and to consider on each day, the present moment where you stand?

Judaism offers a great many opportunities to pay attention to the present moment.  Some would say that such taking notice is the primary purpose for Jewish ritual.  Ritual stops us in our tracks, helps us to notice the bread we are about to eat, the Sabbath about to arrive, the Ten Commandments we are about to embrace.  Without ritual we are at risk of inhaling bread, moving into Friday evening, returning from work on June 3, without noticing.

As we celebrate the revelation at Mt. Sinai, consider Exodus 24:12: “Moses went up the mountain and he was there.”  A Hasidic teacher notices: “This seems redundant: if Moses went up to the mountain, of course he would be there.  However, this is proof that a person can exert tremendous effort to reach the top of a mountain, yet without being there.  He may be standing on the mountain, but his head may be elsewhere.  The main thing is not the ascent but being there, and only there, and not to be below at the same time.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Burning Bush: The Fire Within

December 27, 2013

In his D’var Torah last Shabbat, Rabbi Kuhn challenged us to wrestle with the question: what is my purpose?

At the end of each book of Torah, there is a gap, a space.  There is a legend that the white spaces in Torah are known as “white fire,” and the words of Torah are written in “black fire.”  There is an extra amount of white fire between each book.  So, last week we completed the study of the Book of Genesis, and tonight we begin anew with our study of the Book of Exodus.  The extra space between Genesis and Exodus can represent a pause, a time for us to stop and think about our lives, and a chance to change, and to consider the meaning of our lives. Read the rest of this entry »

Our Teenager Wrestling with Her Judaism

December 4, 2013

Check out our wonderful NFTY leader and youth-grouper, Audrey Fein’s D’var Torah!

An Inscription for the Building Expansion

November 20, 2013
  • In addition to the name Congregation Rodeph Shalom, the front of the building expansion will include a purpose-driven quotation from Jewish tradition.  We value your ideas and hope you will participate!  Please submit your suggestion to the clergy and leadership through Charlene McDonald at

Judaism and the 12 Steps: A Message for Everyone

April 11, 2013

What can Judaism offer to the spiritual journey in recovery?  The more I learn about Judaism and the more a learn about recovery, the clearer the answer becomes.  Jewish wisdom enriches the spiritual journey of recovery in many of the same ways Judaism deepens any of our spiritual journeys.

In Jewish recovery author and teacher Rabbi Kerry Olitzky’s discussion with us at Rodeph Shalom last night, “The 12 Steps: A Message for Everyone,” he spoke about how the core foundations of Judaism, Torah, community and God, can support someone in recovery and can support every one of us in the struggles of life we face.   I’d like to share some of my take-aways from Rabbi Olitzky’s teachings. Read the rest of this entry »

Wrestling with God: A Profound Moment

August 21, 2011

by Dan Seltzer, presented at August 19 Shabbat Service

With a sense of relief that comes with confessing, but also in the Socratic spirit of “the only thing I know is that I don’t know anything,” tonight I am going to talk about whether I believe God exists. If this topic makes you feel uncomfortable, I assure you there’s at least one other person in the room that feels the same way. Me. But first, I want to set the stage by describing a profound moment in my life. The summer after graduating college, some friends and I took a week-long canoe trip through the Allagash River Wilderness. Read the rest of this entry »